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Dokmai Garden welcomes the Rice-field Terrapin

October 8, 2010

This morning when we went shopping at the Hang Dong market, we found a plastic basket with five Rice-field Terrapins (Malayemys subtrijuga) for sale. As I mentioned in my blog on the water dragons of Lumpini park, these fresh water turtles are indigenous, characterised by three ridges on the shield and the absence of red facial patterns (such as in the much more common introduced Red-eared Terrapin). The locals call it ‘tao na’.

Although locally common, the rice-field terrapin has disappeared from many wetlands since people catch and eat them. The sales lady said she wanted 100 Baht for each, 80 Baht if I took all five. Buying wildlife should generally not be encouraged, as that may stimulate more hunting. However, these individuals would have ended up in soups for sure, and since Dokmai Garden has an 8000 cubic meter sloping pond, I took the decision to save these terrapins and at the same time create a refuge for this species. Other Thais in the market also stopped to behold this curiosity, and many old ladies kindly fed the terrapins water morning glory (Ipomoea reptans), which is like trying to offer spinach to children.

This terrapin prefers eating snails and small fish. This is important, since the major pest in Thai rice-fields is the Golden Apple Snail. Biologists claim this would not be any problem, had there been any predators left. Since the Thai farmer in general has killed all turtles, herons, crabs, otters etc, there is no other choice but to spray.

In a garden, fresh water snails may devour your beloved water lilies, and some gardeners see no other choice but to use dangerous chemicals such as metaldehyde. Introducing the rice-field terrapin would reduce the snail problem, and add a new dimension to your garden, like a new painting to your art collection.

Most welcome to visit us and see this new attraction. We put one specimen in the taro field, where you can more easily find it.

Eric Danell

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